From Alexandria I headed south towards Luxor. I took an overnight train from Alexandria to Cairo, wandered around the capital, and then took another overnight train from Cairo to Luxor. Around this point I was starting to get the hang of this “traveling alone” …thing.
I still remember both overnight train rides fondly, where fellow backpackers and I exchanged stories as if we were catching up like old friends. The experiences would become my inspiration for Friends & Contributors later on, and I give them a lot of credit for giving me the perfect first impression of making friends abroad.
However, Luxor’s first impression was what you’d might expect: classic scams of cab drivers trying to convince you that the lodging you planned on had “burnt down” or “closed for business.” So when they say “I think you should come to this other great hotel that is much cheaper!” it’s really another way of their saying “this hotel is paying me to scam you!”
My fellow backpackers and I had talked about these scams prior to arriving at Luxor so none of us really fell for it. Nevertheless, it was baffling (and amusing) to see these scams in action after just talking about them on the train. So collect your wits when you get there.
Welcome to Luxor, the dynastic and religious capital of Egypt’s Middle and New Kingdoms:
Most likely you’ll be arriving into Luxor on its East Bank. If that’s the case and it’s still daylight out, your first stop should be up north at the Karnak Temple, an open-air museum and the largest temple of the ancient world.
Soak in a sunset on your way back to the city center. The timing has to be perfect…
…because you want to get to Luxor Temple by nightfall (and before it closes).
This is the first time my jaw ever dropped:
A place to fill your dreams with before heading to bed.
The next morning I realized I wanted to see everything on the other side of Luxor — the West Bank — in one day.
And the best way to do this is to haggle down a private driver and his car to a good price and you can drive around anywhere without wasting time trying to cab it from place to place. This was one of my first time haggling something as extensive as a private driver, and I believe I got him for around $50 USD for the whole day (including tips). Maybe I could do better now.
Your driver should be able to navigate you to all the important sites on the West Bank. Don’t miss the Valley of the Queens:
Or the Temple of Hatshepsut:
The West Bank’s biggest and supposedly main attraction is the Valley of the Kings, where all the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs have been all kept. It pretty much feels and IS an adventure from Indiana Jones or The Mummy, as you hike up and down desert hills — sometimes all by yourself — to get to a site, and then finding relief from the blazing sun when you go spelunking underground tombs and feeling like you’re part of history all over again.
Cameras unfortunately aren’t allowed in the tombs themselves, so I’m going to have to be a tease here and leave those images up to your imagination.
For me, the highlight was arriving at Ramesseum (aka the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses II.) Having recently read and enjoted through the graphic novel The Watchmen, I was stunned to discover this was the site of that inspired the famous 1818 sonnet Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. (Ozymandias is the name of an important character from The Watchmen, and a big reason why they named him that was because of this sonnet):
Ozymandias of Egypt
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
– Percy Bysshe Shelley (1818)
When all is said and done, treat yourself to a nice dinner and shisha somewhere on the East Bank, even if it’s by yourself:
If you’re lucky, find a rooftop pool to take in the nighttime scenery of Luxor (in my case, a view of Luxor Temple) before heading to bed:
– At time of posting in Luxor, it was 75.2 °F – Humidity: 29% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: clouds and visibility OK